Eastern Maine Skippers Students Tackle Tough Question

The Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP) will wrap up its fifth year on Thursday, May 24, when students make their final presentations at The Grand in Ellsworth.

The Skippers Program began in 2012 as a collaboration between Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, a Stonington-based nonprofit, and Deer Isle-Stonington High School. This year the program, which provides young aspiring commercial fishermen and fisheries-focused students with the skills to be successful in a time of rapid environmental and regulatory change, reached a historic milestone. One hundred students enrolled in this year’s program, a 150% increase in participation since the program’s origination in 2012. The program is now in eight Maine high schools, including Deer Isle-Stonington, Ellsworth, George Stevens Academy, Jonesport-Beals, Mount Desert Island, Narraguagus, North Haven, and Vinalhaven.

EMSP utilizes a project-based approach to learning, where students explore real-world problems to gain a deeper knowledge and skill set. Each year, students tackle a new project. This year, they’re focused on “How can individuals and communities manage and restore local fisheries?”
Students spend the school year identifying fisheries issues and researching a pathway to possible solutions, then share their findings with an audience during final presentations. The event is a culmination of a school year’s worth of work, and an opportunity for students to practice public speaking and how to successfully deliver information.

Ten students from Narraguagus High School are exploring whether or not Northern shrimp can rebound in the Gulf of Maine. Working with Maggie Hunter at the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), they acquired an experimental license, allowing them to set shrimp traps in an otherwise closed area. The Northern shrimp fishery has been closed since 2013. Utilizing local fishermen’s knowledge, they decided where to set traps and the data they would collect, including water temperature, tide, weather, bait, set time, catch, and bycatch. A student’s parent, who is also a local fisherman, volunteered to help students conduct their research. Not only will the findings be presented to the audience at The Grand, but the students will also share this information with DMR.

Mount Desert Island High School students recently interviewed six lobster fishermen from Bar Harbor. The eight students plan to document 20 years of change on Frenchman Bay by giving a voice to Bar Harbor fishermen. During the interviews, they ask how fishing has changed, how an influx of tourism and cruise ships have impacted the harbor, and what the future may look like. Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant was integral in the coordination of these interviews and is now helping students identify themes and a process for documenting their findings. Students will give a voice to Bar Harbor’s fishermen when they share their stories during final presentations. They also plan to share this information with the town council and historical society of Bar Harbor.

Other discussions during final presentations may include issues related to whale entanglement, how to give students a larger voice in management, scallop aquaculture, bait supply, gear design, or access to fisheries and licenses.

Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries supports the Eastern Maine Skippers Program in partnership with Rural Aspirations Project. Throughout the school year, the center facilitates program-wide meetups, where students can interact and learn from one another. They also provide access to scientists, fishermen, regulators, and industry professionals so students can work collaboratively on the challenging questions at hand. Program teachers attend group training and professional development days to better assist their coastal high school students both inside and outside of the classroom.

Together, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Rural Aspirations Project, and Maine’s high schools are preparing students to contribute to the vitality of Maine’s fishing communities. “These young people will be the leaders of our fishing industry,” according to Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries’ Executive Director, Paul Anderson. “We need to nurture our fisheries and keep them here in Maine. These are the people that will lead those efforts in the future.”